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Unit information: Extreme Climates in 2021/22

Unit name Extreme Climates
Unit code GEOG30028
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Richards
Open unit status Not open

There are no pre-requisites. Students will find completion of GEOG20003 The Earth System useful.



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

In this unit we evaluate natural climate variability and forcings by considering data from the recent past and deeper geological time, focusing particularly on extreme warm or cold episodes in Earth history and periods of rapid change.


  • To develop student understanding of natural climate variability;
  • To explore and compare modern and ancient climate (proxy) data;
  • To teach, through practicals, technical skills involved in analysing and quantifying both direct and indirect measurements that inform our understanding of earth system change and internal forcings.

Element 1 : Quaternary Climate

The main focus of this element is how the Earth System behaved during the Quaternary period, when there were extensive ice sheets in both hemispheres and rapid shifts between Earth system states. The lectures and practicals introduce students to a variety of archives with proxy data that are used to test climate models and constrain climate forcings. Major themes include rate of change, leads and lags in the climate system and climate teleconnections.

  1. Climate cycles (exploring data in the time, frequency and time-frequency domain)
  2. Practical – spectral analysis of climate data
  3. Climate and past forcings (ice and ocean records and stable isotopes)
  4. Practical – predicting greenhouses gases in ice cores.
  5. Centennial and millennial climate change (leads, lags and teleconnections and past climate models) 6. Practical – Leads and lags in ocean and cave records of the last glacial period.

Element 2: Modern atmospheric gases

The main focus of this element is understanding how we quantify sources and sinks of greenhouse gases using modern day (or recent) datasets, the results of which inform climate policies such as the Paris Agreement. The lectures and practicals introduce students to the datasets and how they are used to “fingerprint” sources and sinks, and to satellite data which provide the most detailed picture on greenhouse gases in the observational record.

  1. Methane in the Earth System – temporal and spatial analyses (practical)
  2. The influence of other gases on methane in the atmosphere
  3. Environmental influence on methane emissions
  4. Stable isotopes and radiocarbon in methane – fingerprinting (practical)
  5. Satellite data (practical)
  6. Understanding country-level emissions and policy

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Quantify some of the uncertainties associated with climate data;
  2. Evaluate the benefits and limitations of climate datasets in helping predict future climate;
  3. Describe the key components of the global Earth System and their interactions;
  4. Evaluate the tools used to quantify greenhouse sources and sinks;
  5. Apply simple statistical tools to spatial and temporal records of climate/environmental data at global and regional scales.

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Numeracy
  • Analytical skills and problem solving
  • Computer literacy
  • Critical evaluation of literary sources

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • Lectures either pre-recorded or synchronously delivered
  • In-person computer practicals
  • In-person seminars and group discussion
  • Asynchronous individual practical activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace

Assessment Information

  • Practical Report (3 sides of A4), 40% [ILOs 1-5]
  • 2000-word essay (plus diagrams), 60% [ILOs 1-5]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. GEOG30028).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.